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Paton was among the few white South Africans, whose conscience was stricken by the injustice done to the natives, by his race. Over the years, the European settlers had subjugated the natives, conveniently believing that the natives were to serve the whites, the Biblical ‘sons of Ham’ who were cursed by God to be ‘drawers of water and hewers of wood’. Thus the natives became bonded peasant on the white mans’ farms and with industrialization, the native became cheap labor in the mines. The native man’s tribal world and his values were bulldozed and no other coherent system was provided in its place. The native stood in limbo, nowhere to go, just accumulating fear and hatred in his heart. This predicament of the natives, of being ‘caught between two worlds’ is the theme of the novel, Cry, the Beloved Country.
The novel is a social protest novel and aims to lay bare the misery of the natives and the South African impasse. Stephen Kumalo’s story is used to personalize the South African tragedy to strengthen its appeal. The characters of Gestured and Absalom serve as archetypes for the natives, who live in a cryptic world. They have lost their valves and succumbed to the lawlessness of city life. The result of the annihilation of the native world is fear. Fear, for the Negro and for the White. Throughout the novel, the reader sees that Kumalo is greeted with fear, wherever he goes to inquire about his son. There is fear etched on Gertrude’s face on seeing her brother because she is a fallen woman no longer the virtuous sister. Absalom fears his father, because he has lost the values his father had imbibed in him, even the crime he commits is out of fear. There is fear in the whites too, fear of native crime, fear of the black man’s anger and the fear that arise from their guilt. The reader sees the crippling affect of fear, suspicion and hatred on the entire nation.
The situation has worsened to the extent, that there seems to be no solution to the situation. The old tribal system is lost beyond revival as Kumalo learns; the native leaders are infested by corruption; religious leaders like Msimangu cannot face the misery and forsake the world; white men like Arthur Jars are nipped by the very forces they are fighting for. The only answer would be the demolition of the color wall, which has created rifts amongst the two races. The two races must overcome their prejudices and work shoulder to shoulders for the uplift of the country this is the final message of the novel and the author.
Cry, the Beloved Country as the sub-title reads is ‘a story of comfort in desolation’ - this is the second theme of the novel. The story of South African tragedy played up against the score of human relationships.
When Kumalo arrives in Johannesburg his role concern is to re- unite his family. However, he has to encounter the degeneration of his sister, the corruption of his brother and the crime of his son. This lets loose a storm of suffering, but out of suffering comes a true understanding of the problems of his race and broadening of his vision to accommodate the worries of his country and its people. During his stay in Johannesburg, he comes across people like Msimangu and Father Vincent, who offer his comfort and assistance. Simple, kind folks like Mrs. Lithebe, the gracious landlady, the young man at the reformatory, the lawyer, Mr. Carmichael, who accepts Absalom’s case for no fee - all help Kumalo realize, that human beings exist not in isolation but are connected. In an inter- dependent relationship with the entire chain of creation, the warm welcome he receives from his parishioners, makes Kumalo understand that love and compassion can wipe out pain and suffering. The shattering experience of his son’s fatal crime makes Kumalo understand the complexities of life and the fact that life cannot be lived by absolute values. New values have to be evolved to groom the younger generation for a brighter future.
Suffering induced by his son’s brutal murder makes James Jarvis undergo ‘education of the heart’. His son’s death evokes compassion for others and his son’s writings make him responsible to the duties he owes to the natives and his country. He becomes a reformed man and initiates project to help the natives in the valley.